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Colorado Aims To Improve Its Postsecondary Education Gap

University of Colorado Colorado Springs
The Colorado Department of Higher Education wants 66 percent of adults in the state to have a certificate, two-year or four-year degree by 2025.

Jobs in Colorado are changing. As early as next year, nearly three out of four will require some type of advanced degree. That's prompted the Colorado Department of Higher Education to create a plan for helping residents attend and graduate from a postsecondary institution.

KUNC's Stephanie Daniel spoke to Angie Paccione, the department's new executive director, about the plan and her vision for Colorado.

Interview Highlights

What prepared you for this job?

Angie Paccione: Wow. So, this job, as the executive director of the Department of Higher Education, really requires you to have some experience both not just in higher education but also in secondary education and also in industry. And then, better than that even, I was two terms in the legislature … So those are all of the facets that really make up this job to be able to do it really well.

What drew you to the job?

Paccione: The governor. So, I've known the governor for almost 20 years. And when he won, he reached out me and said, 'I'd love for you to apply to be in the cabinet.'… I really have a lot of respect and admiration for Gov. Polis and his brilliance and his passion, especially around education, and I thought this would be a really great opportunity.

What excites you about higher ed in Colorado?

Paccione: My whole career has been about activating potential. And so unfortunately, there's a lot of potential in this state that goes un-activated and some that's deactivated unfortunately. And so, Colorado has a huge equity gap in terms of academic achievement. The industries, the market is telling us that they need 70 percent of adults in Colorado to have some kind of a credential. And right now, we're only at about 56 percent statewide.

Angie Paccione
Credit Colorado Department of Higher Education
Colorado Department of Higher Education
Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

Where do you see the department a year from now?

Paccione: So, a year from now, there are some key strategies that we're trying to do. And one of them really is about the funding formula for higher education.

We've been under a particular funding formula for the last five years and it's time that we kind of look at it again because it's not quite working in the way that we intended it to work… We're going to look at, what are the strategies to address those equity gaps?

And so, a year from now, I would like to see some significant improvement in those particular gaps. So, we might not be at 74 percent in a year, we might not even be at 66 percent. But if we can improve that by, let's say, four percent, if we can get to 60 by next year. Maybe that's a little ambitious but I'd rather reach for the stars than settle for less.

The “American Dream” was coined in 1931 and since then the phrase has inspired people to work hard and dream big. But is it achievable today? Graduating from college is challenging, jobs are changing, and health care and basic rights can be a luxury. I report on the barriers people face and overcome to succeed and create a better life for themselves and their families.
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